(Nairobi/Addis, 24 May 2022) 811 million people globally are waking up hungry each day not knowing where their next meal will come from. A lived reality that is worsening as the world continues to grapple with escalating food prices, ongoing conflicts, climate shocks such as floods or drought, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We really are at a tipping point for hunger. If life-saving humanitarian assistance is not urgently stepped up, 300,000 people could starve to death every single day. This means humanitarian organisations are facing an impossible choice between feeding the hungry and feeding the starving. We must act, and we must act now.” Dr. Fatoumata Haidara, Plan International’s Director Sahel said.
In the Central Sahel, the main driver of the food crisis is insecurity. Markets in affected areas are no longer functional or operate at a slower pace, making it difficult to access basic foodstuffs and income. According to WFP and FAO, the three Central Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger - are among the 20 food insecure hotspots, with 9.7 million people projected to be insecure during the upcoming lean season, a situation that is worsening rapidly. Children, particularly girls, are already paying the highest price.
One of the adolescent girls we spoke to in Mali said “Our weekly market is on Sundays. But when there are attacks, nobody comes to us. We must wait for the situation to calm down. But until then, how do we survive?”
“When we arrived in Kaya, my father could only register five people for the food donations, but there are ten of us. In our village, we were used to not paying for anything. We grew our own cereals, we collected wood for free in the bush, we could collect and cook leaves. Here, we suffer from hunger" explains a 19-year-old internally Displaced Person from Burkina Faso.
Across the Horn of Africa, it is feared that up to 20 million people in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia will go hungry this year. The region is experiencing one of its worst droughts in 40 years, following back to-back poor rainy seasons with Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia facing severe water shortages, rising food prices, reduced food availability, livestock deaths, and rapidly increasing food insecurity. The Governments of Kenya (September 2021) and Somalia (November 2021) declared national emergencies. Since late 2016, there have been multiple exceptionally dry seasons interspersed with exceptionally wet seasons. Such wet seasons also generated devastating impacts: flooding, displacement, and a damaging locust outbreak that together caused crop and livestock losses affecting approximately 3.4 million people.These multi-year, compounding shocks without recovery have been exacerbated by unending conflict and COVID-19, which created massive economic upheaval, pushed millions into extreme poverty, alongside direct health impacts.
Food insecurity can have devastating consequences for girls’ education, according to Plan International’s experience. Girls are already less likely to attend school than boys in many countries, and when families are hungry, girls are increasingly called upon to care for younger siblings, so that parents can work or seek food.
All too often, girls are forced to miss or drop out of school, damaging their future prospects and placing them at greater risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as early marriage or female genital mutilation/cutting.
We have spoken to girls, some as young as 11 or 12, saying they are being exploited by older men in exchange for food, water or money.
One 15-year-old from Kenya said: “This year has been the toughest year ever for girls as the lack of water and food makes some girls offer sexual activities in exchange for sanitary pads, food and clean water.”
In Somalia alone, 350,000 children are now at risk of dying from starvation, according to UN projections. Unless humanitarian aid is urgently stepped up, it is feared that parts of the country will face famine within weeks.
“In most of the countries, children too young to walk are surviving on one meal a day, sometimes less. Entire classrooms are empty because students are too hungry to go to school, while some families don’t know what or when they’ll eat next. As a result of school closures alone, 204 million children globally are currently missing out on meals. .” says Maurice Onyango, Regional Head of Disaster Risk Management at Plan International.
“If we don’t act now, it will be too late to stop catastrophic suffering on a global scale. It is crucial that we turn our attention to the people. The world needs to pay attention to this hunger crisis and treat all people in humanitarian crises equally.” Maurice adds.
As the African Union and its partners prepare to meet for the Humanitarian Summit and Pledging Conference from the 25th – 27th May in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea Plan International advocates to ensure that the impacts of the food crisis on the rights and well-being of children, particularly girls, are fully understood and considered.
“The Africa we want, needs to be built on a very strong human capital – a foundation of children who are well nourished, adequately provided for, well educated, supported with legal frameworks to protect them from abuse, exploitation and harmful impact of humanitarian crises that plague the continent.” Says Samuel Norgah, Plan International’s Pan African Director.
We ask Member States and partners to pledge funds to support the launch and operationalization of the African Humanitarian Agency, due in 2022, and urge Member States to prioritize and commit funds to support and respond to the needs of girls during humanitarian crises.
Food security needs are projected to increase amidst reduced funding in this sector. We additionally call on Member States to take steps to implement policies that improve food and nutritional status of girls in order to fulfil the AU theme for 2022 - Strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security on the African continent.
Mobilization of international public opinion, governments, and donors on food security is highly and urgently needed. Beyond the Ukraine crisis and in spite of all the humanitarian challenges around the world, the Central Sahel crisis continues to demand attention, and especially to avert a full-blown food crisis. The Time to act is Now!
NOTES TO EDITOR
Plan International is working in many of the countries bearing the brunt of this global food crisis. We are rapidly scaling up programmes such as cash and voucher assistance, food distributions, school meals, malnutrition screening and nutrition support. More information at: planinternational.org/hungriest-places-on-earth/
A selection of photos, video and b-roll is available at: https://mediabank.planinternational.org/?c=55817&k=36f8648fc4
To request an interview or for more information, please contact:
Elise Cannuel, Information and Communication Coordinator – Central Sahel Response
Plan International West and Central Africa
Mobile: +226 01183358
Sam Norgah – Director
Plan International African Union Liaison Office
Regional Communications and Media Specialist
Plan International Middle East, Eastern and Southern Africa (MEESA)
About Plan International
Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. We believe in the power and potential of every child. But this is often suppressed by poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination. And, it’s girls who are most affected. Working together with children, young people, our supporters and partners, we strive for a just world, tackling the root causes of the challenges facing girls and all vulnerable children.
We support children’s rights from birth until they reach adulthood. We enable children to prepare for – and respond to – crisis and adversity. We drive changes in practice and policy at local, national and global levels using our reach, experience and knowledge. We have been building powerful partnerships for children for 85 years and are now active in more than 75 countries.